From time to time on this blog, I like to talk about single records; i.e.: 45 rpm’s and 78 rpm’s, and yes, on occasion, even a rare 33 1/3 rpm single, too. Now if you go out and look for old records in thrift shops, used record stores, record shows, etc., how many times have you run across one that looked interesting, or one you’ve heard of, but in either case, haven’t heard? You’re intrigued, but not sure you want to spend the money (not a big deal if it’s a .50 or dollar find, admittedly). Over time, I am going to give you my less-than-expert opinion about various ones that perhaps, if you ever run across a copy, will help you decide whether to grab it or not. Many of them will be country, of course, but not necessarily all of them. Also, some will be hits, some won’t be. So, without any further ado, let’s jump in and look at three from the past, that I think you’ll be interested in.
Jack Reno “Repeat After Me”
The late Jack Reno was an Iowa native who had just as much success spinning records, as he had recording records. In addition to his music career, Jack also had a successful career in radio, as an air personality, working in several Midwestern markets such as Cincinnati and Omaha, along with several other stops throughout Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, and Missouri.
As a musician, Jack scored twelve chart singles in country music, of which seven climbed into the top forty, and three made it into the top twenty; “Repeat After Me”, “I Want One”, and “Hitchin’ A Ride” (a cover of the Vanity Fare pop hit). “Repeat After Me” was Jack’s first chart single, and his highest charting one, as well, hitting the Billboard top ten in the very early spring of 1968.
“Repeat After Me” is a slower ballad, a love song where the main subject is helping his beloved say what he thinks she really feels by having her repeat what he says. The record does feature a female vocalist repeating after him, unfortunately, I’ve yet to find out whose voice it is.
Jack Reno had been recording since 1956, releasing singles on several small labels such as Banner, Fono-Graf, and Midwest, before legendary producer/publisher Buddy Killen heard him and decided to sign him on his newly formed Jab label. According the Michael Jarrett-penned book Producing Country: The Inside Story of The Great Recordings (published by Wesleyan in 2014), Killen says that Reno didn’t initially like the song and didn’t want to record it. That’s a story heard numerous times throughout music history on many great hits, by the way. Jack Reno ultimately did record “Repeat After Me” and the record was released in September, 1967, debuting on Billboard’s Country Top 40 in January of 1968, and became his only top ten hit.
Terry Fell “Don’t Drop It”/“Truck Drivin’ Man”
If you ever run across this single (initially released on both 78 and 45 formats), by all means grab it! This is an interesting release, in that the chart side is nearly forgotten, in this day, while the non-charting side has become a classic.
Much like Jack Reno, Alabama native Terry Fell had been recording several years before scoring his breakthrough, and in this case, only hit, having released several sides on the 4-Star label, before signing with RCA’s “X” subsidiary in 1954. It was during his first session that he recorded both songs, both of which he had also written.
“Don’t Drop It” debuted in Billboard in August, 1954, hitting the top five, mainly through jukebox plays. It’s an up-tempo track that falls solidly in the hard, traditional hard country style and you could argue it being an early example of what ultimately became known as The Bakersfield Sound (it was recorded in California).
Initially, the jukebox and disc jockey spins went mostly towards “Don’t Drop It”, but over the years, that song has been practically forgotten, while the initially ignored flip-side has become a standard in country music. “Truck Drivin’ Man” wasn’t the first truck driving song, but it has been called the first of the modern truck driving songs. It’s up-tempo, driving style is the forerunner to what would later be heard on classics such as “Six Days On The Road” and “Movin’ On”. Though Terry’s version may not have caught the ear of country music listeners, numerous versions in the years since, have, including George Hamilton IV’s 1965 recording that just missed the top ten, and a 1976 country top forty version by Red Steagall.
As for Terry Fell, he would record several more sides through the 1950’s, but never scored another hit as an artist. He would eventually focus on songwriting, where he did have more success, most notably with “Sandy”, a 1959 pop hit for Larry Hall, and “You’re The Reason”, which gave both Hank Locklin and Bobby Edwards hits.
Rusty Draper “Gambler’s Guitar”
Rusty Draper is another Midwesterner, like Jack Reno; also like Reno, he had radio experience, as well, having worked at stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Illinois and Iowa. In later years, after his career as a hit maker had ended, he worked in television, including hosting a short-lived mid-sixties NBC show, Swingin’ Country. As a performer, he charted several records in both the country (six) and pop (14) music.
Rusty, whose vocal style resembled that of Frankie Laine, had more success in pop music, scoring three additional top ten hits (“No Help Wanted”, “Shifting, Whispering Sands”, and “Freight Train”), whereas “Gambler’s Guitar” would be his only appearance in the Country top 40.
Rusty had joined the Mercury roster in 1952, after having a couple of releases, eight years earlier on the Coast label. “Gambler’s Guitar” was his eighth release for the label. Despite the title, the closest reference to actual gambling as we generally think of it, is the verse where the riverboat and lady luck are mentioned. Most the lyrics are telling the guitar to talk about gambling with the heart, and ultimately losing. It’s a fast-paced track that was more pop than country, at least in arrangement, and was released in June, 1953, making its debut on the Billboard pop charts on Independence Day. A little over a month later, it debuted on the country side. On both charts, it would peak at number six, and it sold over a million copies.
A couple of interesting side notes about “Gambler’s Guitar”. In the early 1950’s, it was still common to have competing versions of the same song simultaneously, but unusual in this case, is that the two main versions were on the same label, as Jim Lowe (of “Green Door” fame), a fellow Missourian and the song’s writer, also had a version on Mercury. His version got some notice, but ultimately failed to chart. The other interesting note, here, is by 1953, nearly all releases were being issued on both 45 and 78. While the 78 format was slowly dying, there were still attempts to modernize it with increased fidelity, and pressing 78’s with the same materials used on 45’s, instead of shellac. This record was one of the tracks that was released in the 78-rpm format on both vinyl and shellac; in fact, my copy is the vinyl.
All three of these records were hits back in the day, and are well worth grabbing when you run across copies. Prices can vary widely for many reasons, so I won’t give a price range, but I did get both 78’s for a dollar, each, while Jack Reno’s 45 was less than five dollars. Next time you see one of these in a bin, somewhere, make sure it goes home with you. You’ll be glad you did.
About Thy Author
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. After convincing Vincennes University in Indiana to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting, he has spent most of his adult life on the radio, having worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina, including his current gig, hosting the weekly World Famous Ultimate Twang Radio Show. The show is heard Thursdays, 4-7p ET on WSFM-LP/AshevilleFM, which is at 103.3 FM in Asheville, North Carolina, as well as online at ashevillefm.org. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.